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Now cruel fraudsters are preying on charities… including kids’ football clubs and a dog shelter tricked by bank con

Heartless conmen are targeting bank accounts of animal charities and children’s sports clubs to steal cash that’s been set aside for good causes.

The charity treasurers, who are mainly volunteers, are preyed on because they often lack the know-how to avoid the latest scams, experts say.

They are being tricked into moving money through online banking into fraudulent accounts. By the time the con comes to light, the crooks have disappeared with the cash.

In one case in January, two children’s football clubs just a few miles apart were hit by an almost identical scheme, depriving the communities of nearly £35,000.

Foul play: Laurel Park FC near Reading, fell victim to cyber criminals who targeted its 82-year-old treasurer

The club treasurers, both volunteers, were tricked into thinking they were paying for building work.

In another instance, Chester Zoo paid £1.26 million into a criminal’s bank account, thinking it was paying a firm that worked on its safari experience.

Some fraudsters are even peddling fake magazine advertisements. A dog shelter in Shropshire is struggling for survival after its founder was conned out of £20,000 by a crook using this tactic.

It seems this kind of deception is becoming increasingly popular — the Charity Fraud Line has seen a jump in reported cases of nearly a third in just three years, from 385 to 504 — and criminals are now stealing £2 billion a year from charities, according to analysis by the University of Portsmouth.

Professor Mark Button, of the university’s Centre for Counter Fraud Studies, says small charities are targeted because they have fewer checks and staff get less training.

‘Small charities may have a choice to invest thousands of pounds in anti-fraud training for staff or to pay for new sports equipment for kids, for example — that’s a tough call,’ he says.

Jutta Patterson, who founded Birch Hill Dog Rescue, bought worthless advertising

Every charity, he adds, should make sure that two members of staff sign off any payment to protect against banking fraud.

Laurel Park FC, near Reading, fell victim to cyber criminals who targeted its 82-year-old treasurer.

The thieves sent emails that appeared to come from the chairman of the club — which runs 27 teams for children aged six to 18 — requesting payment for building works from reputable companies such as Jewson.

They provided bank account numbers and sort codes for several Barclays accounts.

The treasurer, a retired accountant, knew the club was planning to refurbish the pavilion so approved four payments out of its Barclays account totalling £28,800. But the receiving bank accounts were actually controlled by the fraudsters.

When you make a payment online, banks do not check the name on the account, so there is no warning if this doesn’t match.

By the time the treasurer uncovered the con and notified the bank, just £8.90 remained in the scammers’ accounts.

The volunteer is so distressed he’s put his house on the market in a bid to repay the money. But community officer Mike Bradshaw says the club won’t accept the cash and will try to raise funds through a family fun day in July.

‘When I found out about the scam I was sick to my stomach,’ he says. ‘How can you steal from a kids’ football club? You can’t go much lower than that. We decided to speak out as a warning, because we don’t want other clubs and charities to fall into this trap.’

A few miles away, Shinfield Rangers, which runs 12 girls’ and boys’ teams for four to 18-year-olds, lost £7,000 in a similar trick on the same day. Barclays was able to recover just £7.

The club chairman, Raymond Barclay, 62, says it will take seven years to recoup the money.

A spokesman for the bank says it had ‘no way of knowing the accounts would be used for inappropriate activity’ and that the criminals moved the funds out ‘very quickly’.

Both treasurers have since stepped down.

Meanwhile, staff at conservation charity Chester Zoo were duped by a forged letter supposedly from construction firm Laing O’Rourke, which had carried out £17 million worth of work at the zoo.

The letter claimed the company’s bank account had changed and supplied new details, which really belonged to a former restaurant in Weston-super-Mare that was owned by 40-year-old Ashad Ali.

Chester Zoo paid £1.26 m into a criminal’s bank account, thinking it was paying a firm that worked on its safari experience

Within 90 minutes of the zoo paying, the cash had been moved into 28 different bank accounts.

Ali and three co-defendants received suspended sentences or community orders for the offence.

And hundreds of people have been conned into buying worthless advertising by a firm called Wyvern Media.

Jutta Patterson, who founded Birch Hill Dog Rescue in Shropshire, was among the victims. She kept the ordeal secret, and it was only after she died of lung cancer in 2015, aged 64, that Trading Standards exposed the scam.

Wyvern staff pressured their victims into paying for adverts in obscure publications and led them to believe that they would appear in national newspapers, according to Trading Standards.

Former Wyvern employee Barbara Stone convinced Jutta to buy £6,000 of advertising in Aspire Magazine. Trading Standards says the adverts never appeared and the company took £14,100 from Jutta’s account.

Her husband, Terry, 68, who has kept the shelter running, says: ‘They preyed on Jutta’s trust and took advantage of her. I wish she had talked to me about what was going on.’

The managing director of Wyvern Media, Jonathan Louis Rivers, 55, from Birmingham, was jailed for six years in October.

Four other company directors were sent to prison and five staff were handed suspended sentences in relation to the scam.

Barbara Stone, 62, from Leicester, pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud by false representation and received a 22-month suspended sentence in February.

To contact Charity Fraud Line, call 0800 023 2101 or visit charity